Looking to Mötley Crüe for advice about business might sound a little like asking Warren Buffett for tips on headbanging. Are there really lessons to be learned from the band who, in their 1980s heyday, were as well known for their over-the-top debauchery as for their music? “Looking from the outside,” says bassist and co-founder Nikki Sixx, “I totally understand why people would think there’s no way this band should even still be here.”
Not only is Mötley Crüe still around, they have continued to thrive even as the music industry has contracted around them and other metal bands they came up with have either become nostalgia acts or simply disappeared. Since their founding in 1981, the band—singer Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars, drummer Tommy Lee, and Sixx—has sold more than 75 million records, cranking out hits like “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Kickstart My Heart,” and “Home Sweet Home” despite weathering drug and alcohol addiction, internal strife, arrests, and imprisonment. As the group prepares to wrap up its legendary career with a final worldwide tour before disbanding for good, Sixx and the band’s longtime manager, Allen Kovac, spoke to Fast Company about the business smarts that have kept Crüe cruising for more than 30 years.
WE CHOSE TO NOT BE IN ROCK OF AGES, AND OUR INSTINCTS WERE RIGHT. THE MOVIE FLOPPED.
When chaos hits, stay organized and disciplined
In their early years, Mötley Crüe flew largely by the seats of their leather pants, and by the mid-’90s non-stop partying and interpersonal conflict was threatening to tear the band permanently apart. When Kovac signed on to manage them in 1994, he insisted they adopt a more structured and formal approach to their business. “At the time, they were very dysfunctional,” he says. “I said I wasn’t going to take them on unless they had an operating agreement that allowed us to make decisions in a more businesslike way, with shareholders meetings and board of directors meetings. There’s still plenty of chaos in this band, but because of the operating structure, they succeed.” Sixx, who has been the band’s primary songwriter and lyricist over the years, was given a tie-breaking vote in collective decisions. Having battled heroin addiction for years, the bassist finally kicked drugs and alcohol in 2001 and put the energy he’d formerly exerted on hedonism into running the group as a disciplined corporate entity. “I wish more bands would run their business like a business and not just wing it,” Sixx says. “Imagine if Coca-Cola or McDonald’s just winged it. For a fan, the idea that this is a business is always touchy. But it’s important that we really deliver the goods to the people who love us.”
Filed Under: Business, Music
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